There is only one word to describe the Top Chef dinner at Decca: Surreal.
I’m going to confess here that I don’t watch much TV. I’ve seen Top Chef before, but it’s not like I have watched every episode. Yet, here we were in a courtyard in June and nine chefs were hyperventilating over a butcher and a chef. This butcher, it turns out, has fanatic devotees all over the world, including Jamie Oliver and Sting. The chef is a multiple James Beard Award winner, expert bread and pizza artisan, and dear friend of the butcher. And here they were in my hometown, praising beef raised on my family farm as we prepared to eat a meal that would be filmed in one of my favorite local restaurants. To top it off, I was wearing makeup and a trendy jumpsuit instead of wearing my usual denim overalls, sweat, and dirt.
Seriously. SO surreal.
Once Darrio had butchered the Foxhollow beef, the chefs each selected a primal cut and moved to the kitchen to prepare it. The judges and guest hosts moved to the dining room where Decca’s Chef Annie Pettry and I joined them at the table. We then tried to have a natural conversation with cameras surrounding us.
When you watch a show like Top Chef, everything looks easy and fun for the guests. As we sat through it in person, I quickly became aware this was due to host Padma Lakshmi’s incredible and subtle skill. She had a way to keep conversation volleying around the table, making everything look and feel lively. She had a deep knowledge of so many subjects and could talk about pretty much anything with anyone. She was clearly organized and knew when to gently, but firmly, move things along so we could get everything accomplished. It was a real treat to watch her work.
The chefs impressed me too. Each chef had spent several hours preparing to present their best dish using the beef they’d just learned about. It must have been nerve-wracking for them as their dish was served and they came to present it to us. As for the dishes, it would be impossible for me to pick a favorite. I was amazed how the beef’s flavor stood out no matter which way it was prepared.
The whole experience was humbling. After everyone put so much hard work and soul into the show, it was hard for me to say what I liked and didn’t like. I just thought, “Who am I to judge this?” The judges were genuinely passionate about the meat’s origins and how that affected the quality. They were also tough - challenging the chefs to think outside of standard preparations of the cuts. Oxtail doesn’t have to be soup and chuck doesn’t have to be a roast. They had ideas I’d never thought of and it inspired me about the future of beef and whole animal butchering.
My takeaway from the meal as a beef farm owner was that whole beef butchering is a sustainable and scalable way to raise and eat quality beef. Most of the chef cast had never seen a side of beef, but at Foxhollow we’ve seen the popularity of bulk beef buying rise steadily over the past few years as curious people try new things. Top Chef demonstrated how a home cook could think differently with great results. They showed that braising beef could feel like fine dining and that everyone didn’t have to have matching ribeyes to make it a good family style meal.
I think that both home cooks and chefs will learn from this episode and see just how much work goes into raising, butchering, and cooking quality meat. My hope is that it encourages everyone to try something new the next time they consider beef at the table. It was a great privilege to be included in this episode and my hope is that it opens viewers eyes to the possibilities of beef. What will you try next time you order?
Check out our other Top Chef Kentucky adventures: Gardening with the Cheftestants, Becoming the Top Chef Gardener, Part One of Our Beef Appearance, Part Two of Our Beef Appearance, and Growing Veggies with the Cheftestants.
Bravo's Top Chef airs Thursday nights at 9 pm ET on Bravo.